2007-11-29 / Front Page

New council begins with a heated debate

By Tom Shevlin

A proclamation request recognizing town staff for their efforts in opening the new town hall drew a heated debate among councilors at Monday's Town Council meeting.

The request, made by Councilman William Kelly, sought to recognize the work of former interim town administrator and current police chief, Thomas Tighe, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, Town Planner Lisa Bryer, Town Clerk Arlene Petit, Public Works Director Steve Goslee, Building Official Fred Brown, Public Works Deputy Director Mike Gray, and Finance Director Christina Collins.

However, even before the motion was seconded, Council President Julio DiGiando expressed his reservations about singling people out and "forgetting someone."

Councilor Robert Sutton, who seconded the motion, offered the first point of discussion echoing DiGiando's comments.

"Is there anyone that doesn't deserve to be thanked?" he asked.

Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski agreed. "Are we leaving people out?" she asked. From the administrators to their respective department staff, Szepatowski said that moving to the new town hall was a collective effort. "Either we thank everyone or we don't thank anyone," she said.

Michael White agreed and suggested that the council approve a proclamation honoring the entire staff.

Still, Kelly was exacerbated.

"I'm absolutely flaberghasted that this is even up for discussion," he said.

DiGiando acknowledged Kelly's frustration, however, he thought that the practice of recognizing individuals in this case was "slightly problematic."

Following the exchange, Kelly's motion was rejected 4-1.

"You heard it here," Kelly said to town staff seated to his left, "We're not going to thank you."

However, in the end, town staff were thanked. In a motion offered by Sutton, he asked that the council approve a proclamation that the town thank the staff of the town of Jamestown for the design and completion of the new town hall.

That motion passed unanimously, 5-0.

Executive session debated

Spurred by concerns raised by Sutton, town councilors continued to reconsider their use of executive sessions.

Sutton, who has advocated for reducing the frequency of executive sessions in the spirit of transparent governance, suggested that in future cases, the town solicitor provide council members with privileged communication outlining his or her opinion and answer questions in memo form that would otherwise be discussed behind closed doors.

White, the newly elected council vice-president, agreed.

Szepatowski also agreed with Sutton's recommendation, however, she expressed her concern that those matters which had already begun in executive session should remain there until their conclusion.

Highway Barn Update

In his regular report to town councilors, Keiser gave an update on the siting of the new highway barn at Taylor Point. According to Keiser, Crossman Engineering, who had been hired to conduct the site engineering has completed its preliminary report on the site's storm water runoff.

Keiser said that the town was interested in the option with the least environmental impact, indicating that would likely mean diverting storm water to the town treatment plant. Further information would be forthcoming as Crossman continues its site evaluation.

Lighthouse repsonsibilty

Jamestown should move quickly to resume responsibility for the Beavertail Lighthouse according to Sutton.

"Jamestown should solve this problem," he said.

The lighthouse, which is in the process of being transferred from the Coast Guard to the General Services Administration (GSA) for a final disposition, had been used, in part, to add to the town's affordable housing base.

However, last spring, Coast Guard officials objected to that designation and in September, the town administrator recommended that the town forfeit its claim over licensed use of Beavertail Lighthouse and support plans by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association (BLMA) over the management of the 151-year-old light.

However Sutton, who worked for the DEM for 15 years, cautioned that he didn't believe the agency had the resources to maintain the light and that it was in the town's interest to maintain a stake in the operation of the facility. For Sutton, the dilemma is case of history repeating itself.

Sutton reminded councilors that it was the town that originally stepped forward in the 1970s take responsibility for the light after the Coast Guard "walked away."

"Having someone out there, having the visibility, makes all the difference in the world" Sutton said.

The matter was placed on the Dec. 10 agenda for further discussion. In other business town councilors: • Accepted the resignation Sav Rebecchi from the Quonset Development Corporation Board of Directors for a term ending Dec. 30, 2007.

• Approved the town's negotiated contract with municipal employee union NAGE #68 (clerks and dispatchers).

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